Djokovic fired up for date with destiny

Aussie Open absence, Nadal rivalry and rise of Alcaraz all raise stakes for world No 1 at Roland Garros, ,Novak Djokovic admits he will be fired up by the saga of his high-profile deportation from Australia when he targets a record-tying 21st major on his Grand Slam return at the French Open.,World No 1 Djokovic captured a second Roland Garros title in 2021 followed by a sixth Wimbledon crown to move to 20 majors alongside Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.,However, his unseemly exit from Melbourne following his refusal to be vaccinated opened the door for Nadal to claim a second Australian Open and 21st Grand Slam crown.,”It’s something that I never faced before,” said Djokovic, who turns 35 on Sunday, the opening day of the French Open.,”The amount of pressure and everything that I was feeling in the first few months of the year, as much as I’ve felt pressure in my life and my career, that was something really on a whole different level.”,Djokovic has played only five tournaments in 2022 but arrives in Paris buoyed by a sixth Italian Open title, becoming just the fifth man to win 1,000 career matches in the process.,It was his 38th Masters triumph, two more than Nadal at the top of the all-time list.,He did not drop a set in Rome as he finished a memorable week with a final victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas, the man he defeated from two sets down in the 2021 French Open title match.,With 13-time French Open champion Nadal suffering a recurrence of a foot injury, another Spaniard is likely to be Djokovic’s biggest headache in Paris.,Carlos Alcaraz, just 19, has rocketed to No 6 in the world on the back of four titles-three of those on clay.,‘Special’ talent,He won a second Masters title in Madrid, sweeping Nadal, Djokovic and third-ranked Alexander Zverev on the way.,”He definitely is special,” said Djokovic of Alcaraz, who also claimed the prestigious Miami Masters earlier in the year.,Alcaraz was ranked 97th this time last year. He was only 2 years old when Nadal won the first of his 13 French Opens in 2005 but he made his mark at the 2021 tournament where he came through qualifying to reach the third round.,Djokovic has been responsible for two of only three losses suffered by Nadal in Paris.,One of those came in a bruising semifinal 12 months ago, the most recent clash of the pair’s epic 58-match rivalry.,Nadal comes into Paris with major question marks over his ability to lift a 14th title.,A rib injury in March was followed by the reemergence in Rome of his chronic foot injury where he limped to defeat in the last 16.,The 35-year-old Spaniard was due to practice this week at Roland Garros where he will have his own doctor on hand to assess his fitness.,‘Living with injury’,”I am a player living with an injury; it is nothing new,” said Nadal, now ranked fifth in the world.,”Since I came back, the foot has been tough. It’s tough for me to be able to practice the proper way.”,Russian world No 2 Daniil Medvedev, who relinquished a two-set lead to lose to Nadal in this year’s Australian Open final, only returned to action in Geneva this week after undergoing a hernia operation.,The US Open champion has 13 titles to his name but has yet to master the draining demands of claycourt tennis.,At Roland Garros, he was winless in his first four visits before managing to stop the rot with a quarterfinal run in 2021.,Medvedev is likely to use the ban on Russian players at Wimbledon this year as fuel for a surprise title tilt.,Greek world No 4 Tsitsipas has enjoyed a solid clay season.,He defended his Monte Carlo title before making the last eight in Barcelona and semifinals in Madrid., , , , ,